Kayli held a baby chick this week. Brody painted his own nails. And Chloe made a lovely chalk self-portrait.
All of those moments warmed my heart. I smiled. I hugged my kids. And then I teared up. Again. My heart keeps breaking for a family that I don’t even know.
Writer Katie Granju’s 18 year old son Henry died on Monday. After a month’s coma. Because of a drug overdose. And a related beating.
What are your first thoughts when you read “drug” and “addiction?” I’m going to be honest with you. Brutally honest. Mine are pure heartache. Followed by at best, hands-off-ness and at worst, judgment. If I dig way-down-deep, to where the thoughts that I should really only be sharing with Jason are, I know that for me, “It could happen to anyone” has always felt caveated with “except us.”
Because I love my kids. To pieces. And we talk. And we have an amazing relationship. And I build them up. But I read Katie’s words well into the night and got over-the-top attached to her writing, their life, their story. And I realized that that intoxicating love that I have for my kids? Katie has that, too. So there has to be more to it than love. Because for most of us, that’s a given.
What it is exactly, I’m not really sure. And that’s what’s been on my mind. What’s been hurting my heart. And what I’ve been searching for. So I reached out to dozens of people and asked countless probing, intrusive questions. I talked to mommy friends, bloggy friends, high school friends, moms who were more like me (mistake-full) and moms who were more like Jason (mistake-less). Moms with little kids, bigger kids and adult kids.
Why? Because I’m absolutely terrified of doing this kind of parenting.
I thought that I had years (and years) before I had to think about anything scarier than diaper blow-outs, sassiness and wardrobe malfunctions. But parenting, our relationship with our children, all of it, is fluid. And connected. So I’m thinking about it now. While my kids are small. And still listening to me. I reached out. I dug deep. And I learned. So. Very. Much.
As good-choice-making-kids, my friends remembered being afraid, clear and busy. They were afraid of being caught, letting their parents down and breaking trust. They were clear (crystal clear) on what their parents’ expectations and values were. And what their consequences would be. They were confident, involved in many activities. And their friends weren’t into partying.
And parents whose children stayed clean? They remembered surrounding their kids with like-minded people, keeping them engaged in activities in which they found success. And talking. A lot. They formally taught their kids how to make good choices. They pried and asked a lot of questions.
That’s a lot to take in.
But the bottom line? Is that kids need high love and high control.
I’ve written a lot about the high love part. I try to live that daily and wrap my kids up in it because that’s exactly where I think they need to be, I need to be.
But in parenting, hand-in-hand with love, is control. In the form of responsibility, accountability and consequences. And that should start when kids are little. You can’t go for a decade all lovey-dovey and then suddenly come down with with all of those -itys. You know what’s right. You know what choices are okay with you. And you also know why.
Tell your kids.
Kids crave and deserve boundaries and clearly defined consequences. Consequences from you, from their bodies, their teachers, their friends, their society, everyone. They are also owed truths.
One Mama mentioned how irritated she gets when anti-drug messages aim for scare-’em-straight in lieu of real, honest information. I get it. I’m there, too. We’re all terrified of what our children might experiment with. But if we mislead them, if we lie or exaggerate, even if our hearts are in the right place, we’ll break their trust. And to them, our words will become…nothing.
Don’t be afraid to tell your kids what you know and how you came about that information. One Mama friend brilliantly said, (she) would do absolutely anything to keep her babies clean. Even if it means sharing information about her own experimenting. How she feels about it today. And why she stopped. Make it natural. Comfortable. Trust them with your story. So they can tell you theirs.
Keep the dialogue going. If your kids ask a question, or something comes up with friends, on TV, in a book, wherever, grasp the opportunity. Don’t let it slide by. Look for information on-line. Ask a doctor. Or a friend whose been there. Go hear a speaker. Most schools have them regularly. Or like one amazing couple did, take your kid to an AA meeting so they can hear a real-live person tell them real-live things. Accountability, responsibility, consequences. Prevention.
One Mama and I talked at length about what we can do, right now, with our littlest of children, to pave the way to smoother, safer peer-pressure years. Cheer them on. Unrelentingly. Instill confidence. Show trust in their abilities. Let them make decisions, mistakes, problem solve.
Give them the words to describe what they see and feel and help them draw connections to who they are and who they want to be. If they do seem to pull away from someone who is making bad choices, affirm their gut. Listening to that “icky feeling in your tummy” is a skill. And it can be taught.
Follow through whenever possible. Own up to it when you can’t, or don’t. Apologize. And fix it. That builds trust. And models accountability.
One of the Mamas that I most look up to (you know who you are) has talked directly and honestly with her children since they were really, really little. She believes in teaching them about good choices in simple ways. Cigarettes will make you really sick. That’s not a good friend choice for you because (put your own value here). That is a nice friend because (put opposite value here). She’s direct and to the point. She’s high in control. But in that control, she’s loving fiercely by protecting her kids WITH knowledge instead of FROM it.
So why am I telling you all of this? And what does any of it have to do with Jewish parenting? Well, my still-teary-take-away from Henry’s tragedy is to be there. And don’t stop parenting your kids, big or little. Even if they say that they don’t need or want you there. Because they do.